Nearly 30 years after Paul C. Hildwin was convicted of strangling a Hernando County woman, the Florida Supreme Court on Thursday overturned both his conviction and death sentence, saying that new DNA evidence “completely discredits” the case used by the state.
A divided court ruled 5-2 that Hildwin should be given a new trial.
The new evidence instead points to the person that Hildwin said had done the crime all along — the victim’s boyfriend who was sentenced in 1998 to 20 years for attempted sexual battery of a child.
“It’s a wonderful day but a very long and overdue one,” said Nina Morrison, a senior staff attorney with The Innocence Project working on the case. “It’s taken us a decade to get him the justice he deserved.”
Hildwin had been sentenced to die for killing 42-year-old Vronzettie Cox, whose nude body was found stuffed in the trunk of a car parked in some Hernando County woods in September 1985. She had been strangled with a T-shirt.
Prosecutors in 1986 contended DNA found on underwear and a rag located at the crime scene matched blood characteristics of Hildwin. Hildwin had been found with a check and rings belonging to the victim, but he contended he stole the items while Cox was fighting with her boyfriend William Haverty.